Sunfish Pond Loop
Hike through the hardwood forests of the Kittatinny Ridge to a picturesque glacial pond and a cascading creek.
At Delaware Water Gap, the Delaware River dramatically slices through the Kittatinny Ridge, forming a steep and narrow water gap, dividing the first major ridge of the Appalachians in two. Flowing into the Delaware on the northern side of the ridge is Dunnfield Creek, a cascading brook that defines the landscape of Worthington State Forest and provides a beautiful location for a day spent walking through the woods.
The hike begins at the Dunnfield Creek Natural Area trailhead. The trailhead parking lot is located near the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center off I-80 just after crossing into New Jersey (or the last exit before Pennsylvania if coming from the east). While this whole hike takes place within Worthington State Forest, the area is surrounded by Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which extends farther north and south, straddling the Delaware River. Additional parking, as well as picnic areas and bathrooms, can also be found at the visitor center if the Dunnfield lot fills up, not uncommon on the weekends when the weather is nice.
From the trailhead, pick up the Appalachian Trail (white blazes) and follow it north along the creek. After about a half mile, bear left at the fork with the Dunnfield Trail and continue uphill along the A.T. This section of the A.T. is relatively easy, with some rocky sections, as it climbs into the forest and away from the creek. Off to your right, the Kittatinny Ridge will come into view. After about 3 miles the trail levels out and makes a right turn at the junction with the Douglas Trail. A backpacker campsite is located here, making an overnight possible. Continue along the A.T. as it traverses a ridge for another half mile to the western tip of Sunfish Pond.
The 44 acre glacial pond was formed during the last ice age, and is a designated National Natural Landmark. The unique natural water chemistry of the pond allows only a few hardy species of fish to survive in the waters. Swimming in the pond or camping in the immediate area is prohibited. If you want to extend your hike, it is possible to follow trails around the pond, getting different vantage points of its crystal clear waters. When you're ready for the hike out, return to the western tip of the lake where the Dunnfield Trail connects with the A.T.
While most visitors come to sit along the peaceful shore of Sunfish Pond, the real highlight of this loop hike, in my opinion, is the Dunnfield Trail. From the pond, leave the Appalachian Trail and follow the light green blazes for your return hike. After about a mile of exposed rocky trail, the path quickly descends and meets the meandering route of the tumbling creek, passing through mixed hardwood forest and crisscrossing the creek several times.
Getting across with dry feet can be tricky, especially after recent rain, but a quick dip can be quite refreshing when the weather is warm. There are several high water routes that avoid most of the water crossings, but they are much less scenic. The lush deep valley formed by the creek envelopes the trail as the waters flow through mossy chutes and past pebbled banks. The mostly level trail culminates in a small waterfall just upstream from a bridge. Follow the path over the creek for the final time, before meeting up with the Appalachian Trail once again. From there, it's a short hike back to the trailhead to finish the loop.
Any trip to Delaware Water Gap is not complete without stopping by one of my favorite places to eat along the whole Appalachian Trail. Head across the state border into Pennsylvania and swing by Delaware Water Gap's Village Farmer & Bakery for a quick bite before or after your hike. Thrifty hikers should take note of their True Love Special, featuring a slice of homemade pie and a hot dog for just $3. Pot pies, burgers, and sandwiches are also available. On weekends, their outdoor BBQ grills up delicious meals as well, but be sure not to leave without a homemade pie or two, they are worth the trip alone.
Distance: 7.9 mile loop, with options to hike farther.
Difficulty: Moderate, with several small creek crossings.
Trailhead: Dunnfield Creek Natural Area. Parking is available at the trailhead, with addition parking available at Kittatinny Point Visitor Center.
Route: From the trailhead, follow the Appalachian Trail (white blazes) 4.4 miles to Sunfish Pond. Return via the Dunnfield Trail (light green blazes) to its junction with the A.T. and continue 0.5 miles back to the trailhead.
Overnight Possible: Yes. There is a backpacker campsite 0.3 miles from Sunfish Pond on the Appalachian Trail, though signs in the area say it is only for A.T. thuhikers. The website, however, makes no mention of that restriction. Bears are common in the area, use proper food storage practices.
Best Time To Go: Delaware Water Gap and Worthington State Forest are great to visit any time of the year. The trailhead parking area can fill to capacity on summer weekends. Additional parking is nearby at the visitor center.
Where to Poop: Pit toilets at the visitor center, or portable toilets at the trailhead. A privy is available at the backpacker campsite along the A.T. Ideal areas along the Dunnfield Trail are limited.